Thursday, January 6, 2011

Is this 2011 or 1984?

The rulers of the dystopian society portrayed in George Orwell's 1984 had a talent for using language that turned reality on its head. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery, and so forth. We know that such unfortunate manipulation of meaning is not confined to the world of fiction. Today's electronic news brings two examples:

Spinifex Press has discovered an alarming blog post suggesting that Pope Benedict considers child sexual abuse to be "normal." The blog reposted a December 21 article from the Belfast Telegraph. “In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said, according to the Telegraph. “It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than' and a ‘worse than'. Nothing is good or bad in itself.” The Telegraph further reports that victims of sexual abuse by priests were outraged by these remarks. One can only imagine.

Meanwhile, the National Partnership for Women and Families reports that US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia doesn't believe that the 14th Amendment prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. At least, that's what Scalia told California Lawyer magazine:
In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
The NPWF notes that the New York Times found this view "jarring." The Times went on to note that
No less dismaying is his notion that women, gays and other emerging minorities should be left at the mercy of the prevailing political majority when it comes to ensuring fair treatment. It is an “originalist” approach wholly antithetical to the framers’ understanding that vital questions of people’s rights should not be left solely to the political process. It also disrespects the wording of the Equal Protection Clause, which is intentionally broad, and its purpose of ensuring a fairer society.
On the other hand, should Scalia's strange view of the 14th Amendment prevail, it would all of a sudden become crystal clear that we really do need the Equal Rights Amendment.

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